Binding imagination

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Cement was re-imagined as a functional product in an exhibition where the construction material took on many avatars

By: Shilpa R

When Sundeep Kumar joined the cement wing of a prominent Indian company, he was entrusted with the job to change the image of the material chiefly associated with construction. The brief was simple: the versatility of the product needed to be presented as a hero. This thought then led to the genesis of an idea which could arguably be seen as an incredible market strategy to give a glamorous makeover not only to the man-made material, but also to the company. In one of the brainstorming sessions in 2016, Sundeep cracked the idea of exploring the malleable properties of cement to create a series of functional products. This is how the high-end designer brand, Craft Béton, was born.

Last year in May, a display of this creative rethinking was showcased in an exhibition in the city. And almost after a year, an elaborate display in an exhibition titled Craft Béton – Cement. Reimagined highlighted how the creative synergies of designers have taken a giant leap as an assortment of varied functional objects took centre stage at the Visual Arts Gallery in New Delhi’s India Habitat Centre. An exquisite presentation of wall installations, furniture, lighting, and home accents redefines the usability of the building material like never before. The works of art are a creation of six designers who initially were a bit apprehensive about the material. But as they say, that is a thing of past.

“The very first thought when someone thinks cement is that will it break? I also lived with this fear when I first began working in cement two years ago, but now I have overcome that fear and challenge. Working with cement is like creating magic and developing a unique bond with the material that is so misunderstood,” says designer Iti Tyagi.

Iti has created masterpieces like ‘Audrey’ – a tabletop that cascades down a table like a fine piece of cloth, accentuated by neat folds. It is the delicate folds on the product and also on the lamps created by her that attract attention. One wonders how a material like cement can be folded into many layers. “Cement is an earth material, much like clay. Again everyone thinks it’s set like concrete but my style is that every product of mine should look hand-crafted and not follow any traditional style,” she says.

“As for the folds, I have a fashion background, so it is natural that I want to add some drama to what I create. Cement lends itself to folds and textures just like clay,” she adds.

The exhibition, a part off Habitat Photosphere, India Habitat Centre’s year-long multi-disciplinary arts festival on sustainable development, pushed the envelope when it comes to rethinking art.

“These are the products of modern India and explore the beauty and aesthetics of the material in an unconventional way,” says Alka Pande, artistic director and curator, Habitat Photosphere, adding “the design philosophy of Craft Béton dovetails beautifully into the over-arching philosophy driving Photosphere.”

According to Sundeep Kumar, chief executive (Craft Béton), Dalmia Bharat, the project gave all designers and the company an opportunity to “discover the many properties of cement.”

Elaborating on cement’s properties, designer Somesh Singh says, “It is one of the most complicated materials to work with. One has to keep in mind a variety of factors – temperature, weather, right composition, curing.

Varied textures

“All these have to come together perfectly to create the precise recipe. For me, the biggest challenge was to prove that like steel and plastic, cement has also evolved and that it’s not true what people think that cement “jhad jayega” (wear off). So the challenge was to create each piece different from each other, different textures, different colour variations and varied interesting surfaces,” he adds.

Somesh is the creator of ‘Melissa’, a honey-bee wall installation which he says is broadly inspired by the works of Gond artist Bhajju Shyam.

“When I saw his work at the Crafts Village, I was intrigued by the way he had used bees to create the idea of flow of air. How can I create this movement in a material like cement was my first thought. After all, why should we borrow from the West when we have such inspiration here. Also his work is not really very traditional and folk in that sense so it really inspired me,” says Somesh, adding he took almost a month to create the one feet by four feet installation.

Courtesy The Hindu


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